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Posts Tagged ‘Buster Keaton’

“On January 1, 2020, works from 1924 will enter the US public domain, where they will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee.”
Jennifer Jenkins
Public Domain Day 2020 from Duke University Center for the Study of Public Domain

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Thanks to a Facebook post by Ted Hope of the above link from Duke University I became aware of a wide range of films, books, and music that are now in the public domain. Of course, what that means is you are free use those stories without paying any royalties.

This includes the movies by Buster Keaton (The Navigator) and Harold Loyd’s (Girl Shy), books by E.M. Forster (A Passage to India) and Edith Wharton (Old New York), Eugene O’Neil play Desire Under the Elms, and music by George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue) and Irving Berlin (Lazy).

In music what is copyright free is the arrangements, not performances from 1924 until now. And the 1984 movie (and the script by David Lean, nor the play Santha Rama Rau) are copyright free, but you are able to go the 1924 source material and use freely.

The topics of copyright law and derivative works have long been the center of many conversations among content creators. As original as everyone seeks to be it’s impossible  to shake connections to past work. Just look at some Oscar nominated films this year: You watch 1917 and you think of Saving Private Ryan and Russian Ark (and Birdmam, and Rope), Marriage Story has traces of Kramer vs. Kramer, The Irishman is a brother to both Goodfellas and The Godfather and a cousin to Hoffa, Joaquin Phoenix is favored to win Best Actor for his Joker that Heath Ledger won an Oscar for in a supporting role as the same character in The Dark Knight.

Inspiration is one thing, copyright infringment is another thing. One of the nice things about adapting stories from 1924 and before is you are building on work that has proven worth. The test will be can you update it for a modern audience? But at least you can do it without the threat of being sued. No shame in following the steps of proven writers. And I think you find—as Francis Ford Coppola has said—at the end of the day, you will make it your own.

“Someone is going to invent a new art form, a new medium—it’s probably not going to be you. So follow in someone’s footsteps. Because if there is someone before you that has made an impact with the acoustic guitar, then we know it is possible. . . . If you would have said to me when I met you, my goal is to change the culture with an outdoor repertory theater that’s only going to be in Iowa, I would say ‘Has anyone ever come close to doing that?’, because your expectations might be mismatched. You said you wanted to change the culture. If on the other hand you say we have typewriters and we know how to deal with people in Hollywood and New York who have carriage and spectrum, I’d say yeah, there’s been a thousand people before you—in their own way—who have done that. Yes, go do that.”
Author/speaker Seth Godin (The Dip)
Interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman (9/17/19)

P.S. Speaking of Seth Godin and Iowa, Godin’s book Purple Cow was one of the inspirations behind starting the blog Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places way back in 2008. On the 12th anniversary of this blog (January 23, 2020) I’ll give an update on the progress on my book based on the blog.

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“Well, as a rule about 50% you have in your mind before you start the picture, and the rest you develop as you’re making it.”
Writer/Director/Actor (and silent film comic genius)  Buster Keaton 

“Going into a day we were 70% structured, 30% was left up to the film gods to give us happy accidents.”
Writer/Director/Editor Sean Baker on shooting The Florida Project

Yesterday I read the New York Times list of The Best Movies of 2017 and since the writers (Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott) put The Florida Project at #4 I feel justified in continuing to blog on that movie that I’ve been doing for the past month.

“We actually scripted a rainbow. The kids were supposed to have seen the cows and then look up and see a rainbow. We were going to have a CGI rainbow where they chase a rainbow through a field, but two weeks earlier we were shooting at The Magic Castle and suddenly everyone goes there is a real rainbow over the motel and I thought if we shot that it would save the production 50 grand. ‘Get the camera down there. ’ You know it’s a 35mm camera— it took seven whole minutes to get it down there and when we did we only had moments to capture it because it was fading. Those two little girls knew what to do. They just jumped right into that little talk about the leprechaun and ran off into the parking lot. So there are happy accidents and also moments of desperate improvisation in front of and behind the camera. That’s just the way I like to work sometimes.”
Sean Baker (who co-wrote The Florida Project with Chris Bergoch)
The Director’s Cut podcast interview with Paul Schrader

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Valeria Cotto and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Speaking of rainbows, here’s a scene that I think the young character Moonee in The Florida Project would enjoy. Where Judy Garland ponders if there is such a place where there isn’t any trouble.

Related posts: The Journalistic and Cinematic Roots of The Florida Project

Scott W. Smith

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“When we speak of silent comedy we speak instantly of three names—Chaplin, Loyd, Keaton.”
Walter Kerr
The Silent Clowns 

The eyes of the world are on the Midwest today. Tomorrow they could shift back to the Middle East and Israel vs. Iran. But for at least a few hours during Super Bowl XLVI it will be New England vs. New York. Manning vs. Brady.

One-third of the entire United States population will be focused on the game (or the commercials) as the Patriots battle the Giants in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (The game will also be broadcast in more than 200 countries.)

I thought it would be a fun challenge  to see if I could connect the silent film era that I have been writing about recently with the Super Bowl. And so here’s the Harold Loyd Vs. Buster Keaton debate—in the battle of football movies.  (I didn’t include Chaplin because he recently had his own post—Mr. Silent Films—plus he didn’t make a film about football.)

“It is taking nothing from Keaton or Loyd to say that Chaplin built the road along which they swept to success.”
Kevin Brownlow
Hollywood; The Pioneers 

Despite Loyd being famous for his clock management, and Rudy-like zeal (Indiana reference #2) of not being that gifted athletically—he was only a first year player in The Freshman (1925):

Keaton would appear to have the advantage because as Walter Kerr  pointed out, “Keaton ran so often during the twelve features he made in the 1920’s that the sprint became a trademark.”   And, in fact, he did run a good deal in  Three Ages  (1923):

And the winner is—Buster Keaton. Why? Three reason:

1) First, Keaton not only starred in Three Ages, but he’s also credited as producing, directing and writing the film.
2) The Freshman was said to be pirated from H.C. Witwer’s short story, The Emancipation of Rodney.
3) I trust drama critic Walter Kerr’s (1913-1996) assessment of Keaton in his book The Silent Clowns:  “Let Chaplin be king and let Keaton court jester. The king effectively rules, the jester tells the truth.”

P.S.  Just for some added Midwest mojo, Buster Keaton was born in Piqua, Kansas and Harold Loyd was born in Burchard, Nebraska—more unlikely places for Hollywood icons to come from. Talent comes from everywhere. Kerr (who was also a produced playwright, on top of writing for the New York Times) was born in Evanston, IL just about 200 miles north of today’s big game and received his BA and MA from Northwestern, on his way to becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer in criticism.

P.P.S. And if you catch the game today, you might see a singer who was born in Bay City, Michigan and has sold more than 300 million albums. Madonna will be performing the half-time show.

Scott W. Smith 

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Once Upon a Time…between 1890-1927.

The history of movies did not begin in Hollywood, California. After decades of advances in photographic techniques in the nineteenth century an inventor born in Milan, Ohio and raised (and homeschooled) in Port Huron, Michigan developed the motion picture system as we know it today. Thomas Edison (and his assistant  William K.L. Dickson) worked together on the new invention that changed the way people viewed entertainment.

Work took Edison to Canada & Kentucky before he would eventually land in New Jersey and his inventions earned him the nickname “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” (Dickson is also known to film historians as the filmmaker Fred Ott’s Sneeze in 1894.)

Edison held patents on over 900 of his inventions including the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph and around 1890 the film camera as we know it. Dickson developed the kinetograph, a sprocket camera and George Eastman (of Eastman-Kodak fame) developed the 35mm film that would pass through the camera and capture multiple images quickly.  (A technique commonly used for the last 100+ years in the film industry.)

The main problem with the early camera was it was so large it had to be permanently housed in a studio built in West Orange, New Jersey specifically for it. The studio had a track in it that allowed them to rotate camera positions to capture light coming from an opening in a room.

It’s important to look back at the early developments in film history to how Hollywood became Hollywood as we know it and why recent inventions have shifted the direction for the future of the film industry.

In the years leading up to 1900 the popularity of film grew rapidly. First using machines that allowed people to individually watch short films and evolving to nickelodeons in 1905 that projected the film images in storefronts that allowed small groups of people to watch the same film together. Within two years there were close to 4,000 nickelodeon theaters in the U.S.

New films had to be made quickly as audiences grew. And film moved from showing vaudeville acts such as juggling to telling stories. These films were usually less than ten minutes in length and made in a couple days. In 1903 Edwin S. Porter made the 12-minute film The Great Train Robbery which was seen as groundbreaking for its use of indoor/outdoor shots and use of cross cutting.  The film toured the country for years.

This all set the stage for a stage actor and playwright named D.W. Griffith in 1908 to make the film The Adventures of Dollie. Films began to grow in length as well as artistic merdits—as well becoming more economically viable.

Griffith changed the direction of the film industry in 1915 with the release of the longest and most expensive film ever made, The Birth of a Nation. The $100,000 film made $50 million dollars at the box office.

Distribution rights and patent infringements all played a roll in this emerging and profitable new industry.  New Jersey, New York (as well as Chicago and Jacksonville) all played a roll in the early development of movies. The New York area and Chicago were a natural start because that’s where the stage talent was located and Jacksonville for its warmer weather and sunshine. But there would be a shift in the film industry. (A common theme we’ll see.)

The industry eventually landed in southern California because of its combination of sunshine, warm weather and the diversity of nearby locations such as mountains, deserts, oceans, cities, open ranch land—and cheap labor. Remember places like New York and Chicago had a long established theater and vaudeville companies that were very popular. Experienced talent does not come cheap. (But producers were just as interested in producing cost efficient films as producers today. So a new industry was born on the backs of those with little or no experience in the new industry. Sound familiar?)

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica by 1915 there were 15,000 people working in the film industry and 60% was located in southern California. During this time films were all black and white and silent. The format worked well for the antics of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the beauty and talent of Mary Pickford.

But that would all change as well in 1927 as talkies came on the scene as we’ll learn in Once Upon a Time… (part 3).


Scott W. Smith

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